“That Girl’s a Tomboy!” (January 8, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I spent the first half of the day rearranging and alphabetizing about one-fourth of my CD collection–you don’t want to know how many that is. I was on the verge of despair, as I’d just lost the organizing thread about two years ago and had been having trouble finding things. It had started as a “new acquisitions” section, then turned into a Chinese dragon that wound out of the living room into the family room and back to the guest bedroom. I can hear you whispering, “This guy’s in trouble.” I did get the project finished, though, thanks to a big boost by Princess Nokia out of NYC, and the deluxe version of her new 1992 mixtape. Best new stuff I’ve heard in MONTHS; the kid’s got spunk, nips (which she actually praises in a verse), sass, brains, and talent. I was already in love with it when this came on and fixed the hook deep in my lip:

Sports, fast food, fashion, sex, school: she’s interesting about it all. She even convincingly brags about her physique, winningly, too, because by her own account she’s not Beyoncé and could care less. I was actually hurt when the thing was over! I’d listened to Charli XCX’s Pop 2 just prior*–that youngster’s pretty good herself (very much assisted by sensational production), but the Princess knocked her out the box. I strongly suggest you download 1992 like now! This shit even motivated me to alphabetize my New Orleans shelf!

Short-shrift Division:

That wise old man Mose Allison dropped a killer-diller before he died, packed with his typical eye-twinkling wisdom: The Way of the World.

Makaya McCraven’s Highly Rare is even better, I think, than its predecessor. He’s got a thing: a cut ‘n’ paste jazz percussion jam style with a bewitching groove. No surprise this is out of Chicago.

Now I’m listening to Smithsonian’s Letters from Iraq, which is quieting and beautiful.

*The reader will notice I ate my veggies today (see yesterday’s entry) and am better for it.

“Default to ‘Comfort Food’—The Aural Kind” (January 6, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

              VS.             

What I should have done and planned to do:

Get caught up with some hot new youth music that one can dance to. I had two such albums in the chamba: Charli XCX’s Pop 2 and Princess Nokia’s 1992 (Deluxe), the latter of which I am quite excited about hearing.

What I actually DID do:

Listened to two of my all-time favorite albums of New Orleans-based music, both starring famous Mardi Gras Indian Big Chiefs: The Wild Magnolias (with Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux, plus Snooks Eaglin on guitar) and The Wild Tchoupitoulas (with George Landry, plus Ziggy Modeliste on drums). Definitely danceable, still sounds young, oh so comfortable to my ear, heart, and mind. All triggered by a friend changing his Facebook profile to a Mardi Gras Indian pic. Hey–it’s…

Also, to create a great environment for Nicole’s cooking, I played Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s absolutely magnificent Kidney Stew is Fine, on which he is supported by none other than Jay McShann on piano and T-Bone Walker on guitar, and the out of print Down the Road A Piece: The Best of Amos Milburn, on which you can hear where Johnnie Johnson probably picked up some tricks. That latter also has the great Maxwell Davis on sax and arrangements.

Short-shrift department: All those 45s I bought in Louisiana, plus the Sarayah CD, which I repeat-played all over again.

“I Know It’s Hard, But It’s Fair” (January 5, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

There was a time when you couldn’t just stream, steal, or buy any piece of music ever recorded–in fact, a few works are rather elusive even now. I remember at the advent of the CD so many items I’d only read about but never seen in a store appearing before my eyes: The Velvet Underground and Nico, Funhouse, Out to Lunch. But even then, much very legendary music was either trapped in legal limbo or poorly distributed. I miss such exciting moments now, but in the latter half of the 1980s, if I saw an outlet mall along the highway, I never passed it by, because (this is just one example) you could always find King label r&b and country reissues (actual releases, not compilations) in the cut-out bin for anywhere from $5 to $8. The voracious but not particularly scholarly or careful folks at Gusto Records had snapped up all of King’s stuff (apparently, STILL has the rights to it!), and just slopped it out with no annotation or attention to sonic enhancement. I didn’t care about that then at all: I just relished the opportunity to actually hear George Jones’ raw Starday hits, the classic Stanley Brothers’ albums, and–especially–the Five Royales’ and Midnighters’ tracks that some argued might be the real beginning of what we used to call rock and roll.

Yesterday, I loaded the CD player carousel with Rhino’s ace compilations (now, like those Gusto cheapos, also out of print) of those latter two bands, Monkey Hips and Rice and Sexy Ways (respectively). They still sound HOT! The Five Royales, in particular, sound more amazing every year, thanks to Lowman Pauling’s nasty six-string knife-throwing and astonishingly varied and adult songwriting. The classics? “Right Around the Corner,” “Slummer the Slum,” “Tell the Truth,” “Think,” the original “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “When I Get Like This” are just a few. As a Missourian, sometimes I think subversive thoughts when I listen to this stuff and think about Pauling in comparison to the much better-known and officially lauded Chuck Berry. The gospel-fired group and solo vocals of the Royales (mostly courtesy of Johnny and Eugene Tanner) are nothing to sneeze at, either.

Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, in most ways, aren’t really in the same league (they even had to change their name from the Royals to avoid a confusion that probably would have benefited them). But Ballard’s unbridled, lusty hollering across the great “Annie” (and “Henry”!) series still sounds exciting and dangerous. And, though you might expect that the sequels would be sound-alikes, “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” and “Henry’s Got Flat Feet” are distinct compositions that stand on their own, especially due to Ballard’s inventive lyrical twists and fiery contributions by Cal Green on guitar and the great Arnett Cobb on tenor. The expertly selected tracks include Ballard’s original version of “The Twist,” his JB-beloved ballad “Teardrops on Your Letter,” and the late dance masterpiece “Finger-Poppin’ Time.” Not that Hank forgot his meat and taters, as “Open Up the Back Door,” “Look at Little Sister,” and another sequel, “Let’s Go Again (Where We Went Last Night).”

I am happy that, via streaming, any listener can likely experience anything by these groups seconds after they learn about their existence (if they ever do, in the rushing tide of new). But I miss the thrill (and duration) (and surprises) of the hunt. It’s hard, but it’s fair–I hope as much to the artists’ estates as the listeners’ learning, but I have my doubts.

Short-shrift division:

I was in an experimental jazz groove otherwise.

Jason Moran’s fizzy and appropriately loose-limbed Fats Waller tribute, All Rise.

The budding East Coast free-jazz-with-resistance-poetry of Irreversible Entanglements‘ eponymous debut.

“You Never Can Tell” (January 5, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Listened to two unlikely records today made by some stereotype-busters.

One artist hailed from deep Acadiana, and–though he did go on to play in the Cajun super-group Lil’ Band of Gold–studied and sang Gregorian chants, worked with Phillip Glass, Talking Heads, and Laurie Anderson, and created, through tape-delay and overdubbing, the incredible one-man record 15 Saxophones. Supposedly minimalist, the sound is maximal–a swirling storm of horn, a fever dream of reeds.

The name? Dickie Landry.

The other artists (actually, a group) had made their names backing everyone who was anyone in country music in the 1950s, often innovating on their instruments. But in 1960, they were invited to the Newport Jazz Festival (they also liked to swing!), and though a youth riot kept them from taking the stage, they knocked out some joyful jazz for a small yard audience after the riot was quelled, a performance recorded and released under the title After the Riot, credited to the Nashville All-Stars.

All-Stars? Do the names Hank Garland, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, and Floyd Cramer ring any bells?

Hey! You get full albums!

Short-shrift Division:

The absolutely stellar live companion to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s magnificent 2017 studio recording, So It Is, called Run Stop and Drop (The Needle), recorded where else but Preservation Hall in NOLA. It’s looser, and a bit hotter, than the official release. Here’s a KEXP in-studio performance to tease you (guess the shrift wasn’t that short):

“What A Diff’rence a Day Makes” (January 1st, 2018, New Orleans, Hotel Monteleone)

 

I’ve been resolving to write more frequently, and meaningfully, for a year, and a fat lot of good that’s done me. I’ve always been good at attributing blame for my inaction, and 2017 gave me plenty raw material: a national predicament with distraction as its personality, multiple part-time jobs that were “interfering with my creative continuity,” my 55th year of life–which, for me, somehow symbolized the absurdity that I would have anything meaningful to say about music–and my lifetime bibliomania (“Why write when I can read?”). You name it, I have had it handy: enough excuses not to write as there are cards in a deck.

Well, no more!

I’m serious!

Nudged by a fellow music fanatic’s comment on a question I stole from Rough Trade Records’ Twitter feed and posted on a music forum, I’m attempting to make journaling about my listening a daily habit (along with, let’s see, meditation, exercise, reading 80-100 pages a day, I’m sure there’s more–I am a habitual man). Perhaps I’ll have something stimulating to say, but, at the very least, when someone asks me what I’ve been listening to today, or lately, I’ll be less likely to reply as I have been lately: “Ummmm…let’s see…uh…dammit…I can’t remember!” That, after, usually, a day when I’ve listened to several hours‘ worth of music. All of the technology in my life is reducing my need for memory, and that scares the living fuck out of me. Fear: the great motivator.

I shall now sally forth. I doubt every entry will be this detailed when I’m back to work, but I will strive for it.

Last night, the final one of a truly terrifying year, found us holed up in this hotel, watching a decent movie (Ingrid Goes West), playing Phase 10, and, of course, listening to a tsunami of music, while a 40-degree drizzle reigned outside. Rather than just be scrolling through song choices every five minutes, I utilized some YouTube playlists I’d created. Since I, wisely or unwisely, subscribe to YouTube Red, we didn’t have to hear ads; this comes in handy in my pop music/freshman comp class at Stephens College, when I’m using them for instructional purposes.

One of these was a “life playlist” I’d created for a fellow instructor, Juan Diaz, when I was teaching high school at Hickman. He’d made the assignment for his pop culture class and I couldn’t help joining in. You’ll have to guess at what kind of life event each song represents. Or maybe you’d better not.

Another was a Top 20 mix that plucked a dandy song off each of my favorite records of 2017. I was a bit nervous about how some of the songs would land on Nicole’s ear, as she’s (mostly) a staunch American music classicist; in particular, she adores ’50s and ’60s electric Chicago blues and Dinah Washington. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to mind some of the stranger items on this playlist. Listening to the great young EDM artist JLin in the context of her fellow Top Tenners gave me even more confidence that I’d rightly placed her in their company.

We closed out the evening and the year with an in-progress companion I’m making for music scholar Rich Kienzle’s fascinating but prosaically titled out-of-print Great Guitarists, within the pages of which I’ve found many obscure classics, several included here:

Through the vodka-smudged chambers of my memory, I believe Elmore James’ exploding, abrading slide guitar was the last musical sound I heard in 2017.

This morning, after arising and pouring down some coffee, Nicole and I went up to the roof to see the early morning sun shining over The City That Care Forgot. The best view accessible to us, unfortunately, was in the stanky hotel fitness center, but the hotel employee in charge noticed us taking pictures and snuck us into the super-secret rooftop conference room, the view from which was stunning.

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Blissed out by such views, we went down to the hotel restaurant to dine (in case you’re curious, I enjoyed–I mean enjoyed–chicken-fried green tomatoes, boudin blanc, and poached eggs–but no cocktail). Every time we’ve eaten at Criollo, the music has been fantastic; they lean heavily on ’50s Verve-label jazz, but it’s clearly curated, not just thrown together. While waiting for breakfast to arrive, we heard Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” a song I knew best from Anita O’Day’s version, which I thought definitive. After all, who better than the headfirst-into-the-flames Miss O’Day to convey the exquisitely detailed and varied pain suggested by the lyrics?

I’m often wrong, and I was again. Ella’s often written of as projecting a girlishness, but her delivery almost sadistically twists ecstasy and injury in a manner only available to someone who’s been to the bottom of lust’s (and love’s) well.  Here, try it yourself, and check Hart’s lyrics, which I assume from what I know of his sex life were written about a man:

Damn. 

Our meal closed out perfectly with one of Nicole’s all-time favorite songs, Dinah Washington’s classic “What A Diff’rence a Day Makes.”

And I hope it does. For at least 364 more.

I must away to attend to finishing Richard Lloyd Parry’s haunting account of the destruction of a school and most of its students and teachers, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone. Cheerful stuff, but masterfully written.

Short-shrift division:

SZA’s CTRL.

Erik Reece’s Oxford American piece on Freakwater.

What we skipped, live in NOLA: a second line w/Hot 8, Slick Rick, Tank & the Bangas.

Gary Giddins’ Map to Post-War Jazz

The Wizardry of ‘OZ–and an iPod Playlist (January 2, 2018, Memphis, Tennessee, The Peabody Hotel)

 

Yeah, I live in luxury…what of it?

This is the last night of a holiday trip Nicole and I have saved up for and taken the last three turn o’ the years. We start by caravanning with my parents to Frisco, Texas, to see my aunt and cousin for a night; proceed by driving Mom and Dad down to see my brother and his ladyfriend in Dickinson, Texas, over Christmas Eve and Christmas; leave my parents in Dickinson (they fly back to Dallas to get their car in Frisco) and motor to Lafayette, to sup on great Creole and Cajun food and drop some ducats at the amazing Lagniappe Records (where I snagged some nice items by Dickie Landry, Dead Moon, Feufollet, and Tsege Mariam Gebru); then, finally, ensconce ourselves in a nice hotel in New Orleans for a week (the last three years, the literary landmark The Hotel Monteleone) and explore the city, which can be done without exhausting its bounty for a lifetime, I imagine. I’d share our recent adventures, but I just started this diary yesterday, our last day in NOLA, so I’ll have to leave you in suspense (except to say that it is essential if you’re in the area to visit the Whitney Plantation–where you will learn about the lives of enslaved humans in detail, and walk where they walked).

When it’s time to pack up and head home, we always do what we did this morning: get up early, jet over to Elizabeth’s for breakfast (how about fried potatoes and poached eggs in spinach Hollandaise, encircled by eight fried fresh oysters, and topped off with a Bloody Mary?), then find I-10 West and dial in 90.7 FM New Orleans for the great community radio station WWOZ! ‘OZ is an amazing experience; I always fantasize that travelers crossing through NOLA have their audio magically re-set so they can hear the cornucopia of music forms that was born right where they’re passing over–thanks for nothing, Robert Moses! Old-time New Orleans jazz may be considered moldy fig music by some, but the stuff still jumps. I listen to a healthy portion of free and experimental jazz, and in the interaction of musicians playing Nawlins style I can hear the same eye and ear contact and inventing in the moment I treasure in Tyshawn Sorey’s or Roscoe Mitchell’s stuff, even thought they may be as different as cheese and chalk otherwise. As we motored down to I-55 and headed north (the signal begins to give out as you’re about midway across the bridge over that area’s section of Lake Ponchartrain), the DJ on duty was spinning tracks from young groups who are injecting new blood into those old forms, and they were lively enough to keep me out of a breakfast coma. Unfortunately, I was too close to comatose to take note of the bands’ names, but click the ‘OZ hyperlink above and experience it yourself.

To get us the rest of the way to Memphis, our last stop before finally reaching our home base of Columbia, Missouri, we play a massive iPod folder of NOLA and Memphis music that I prepared for Nicole, who’s as much a nut for that stuff as I am (and that’s saying something), close to a decade ago. We never tire of its 600+ tracks, which we put on shuffle. Some highlights you might find enjoyable: Johnny “The Tan Canary” Adams’ insane whistling on “Johnny A’s Blues” (Guess what? It’s not on YouTube, so you’ll have to resort to buying or downloading Ace’s More Gumbo Stew–all three volumes, which document the rise and fall of NOLA’s AFO records, are well worth your time and money.); Buckwheat Zydeco’s wrenching, heartbreaking post-Katrina version of George Perkins’ “Crying in the Streets”; Memphis’ transcendentally weird answer to ZZ Top, Mudboy and the Neutrons, doing the crazed “Money Talks,” in the middle of which Neutron James Luther Dickinson commands you to lay hands on your radio during a truly Memphian recitative; and among the first Mardi Gras Indian chants ever recorded professionally, on the Jazz A La Creole album credited to Baby Dodds (listen, just below).

We just slammed some delicious Central Barbeque–BBQ bologna sandwiches are to Memphis what muffalettas are to the Crescent City–and, now that I’ve waited for an hour, I need to go swim off these calories in the Peabody’s heated pool. Then, as you will soon see, we’ll be back to our usual humble living.

Short-shrift division:

Player piano at The Peabody playing Elvis hits.

Mystikal. Such a troublesome road for the Howlin’ Wolf of hip hop.

Al Green (and Lou Rawls!!???) dominating the sound system at Central BBQ.

She Knows How to Rock (in a Record Store) (January 3, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

 

Though we had a blast the past two weeks in Dallas, Houston, Lafayette, New Orleans, Covington, St. John Parish, and Memphis, I couldn’t wait to get home so I could play the batch of new records and CDs I’d purchased along the way. Though I’m very down with digital (I’ve filled 1.1 T of a 2 T external drive), I like my physical media–and maybe the shaky fate of Net Neutrality gives new support for that fondness.

Funny thing, though: I suppose it’s a bad problem to have, but since I live in a library, I can walk into a record store and be somewhat paralyzed. I quickly become aware that I must completely comb the stacks to find items I really want badly and don’t already have(or would love if I knew they existed)–and I am just too impatient at this point, and too aware that my life is finite, to do that. So I have to stand there for about ten minutes and strategize just where I’m going to spend time…as you might be able to tell, this doesn’t sound like much fun.

It’s at the worst of these times when Nicole comes to the rescue. She can walk right in, sniff around quickly and randomly, and find items that end up being house favorites–and she doesn’t even do music nerd research! On this trip, twice, within minutes of walking into record stores, she snagged records I didn’t even know about that we played right when we got home and delivered the goods.

At Lagniappe Records in Lafayette (a must-visit if you buy music), she found Tsege Mariam Gebru’s Spielt Eigene Kompositionen–rolls off the tongue, don’t it? Now, I knew about Ms. Gebru: she’s a piano-playing Ethiopian nun who’s suffered exile at least twice and plays in a solo style that is hypnotic and calming. A BBC 4 documentary about her is titled The Honky Tonk Nun, and while I think that title is misleading, if you imagine Lefty Frissell’s old saloon-style piano player nearly knocked out on codeine and poking around the 88s, well, that about gets it. Thing is, we’d already gotten what I thought was Gebru’s only album (surely she wouldn’t have made another, given her idiosyncratic style, her path in life, and her forced peregrinations?) at Lagniappe last December. As if she had a divining rod, Nicole found the other Gebru record almost instantly; the cover art really does not make it stand out (see below), and I’d probably have missed it (big props for the unique folks at Mississippi Records in Portland, Oregon, for releasing both platters):

Two days later, we walked into Louisiana Music Factory, an outstanding store just southeast of The Quarter and up Frenchmen Street that is just packed with goodies–and, really, it lives up to its name by mostly featuring Louisiana music, of which there is plenty, in many styles. This place paralyzes me for a different reason: I know I will always find plenty of wonderful stuff, and I know where to look, but it would actually drain me emotionally to cover all the ground necessary, so I walk up and down the aisles like a zombie hoping to quickly and accidentally spot the records I need. Surprisingly, this tactic worked fairly well for me, but it took some wandering; Nicole, upon entering the store, took a left to the listening lounge the store’s set up for new and featured releases, saw a cover that looked striking, put on some cans, and just listened–old-style. The above picture was taken at the moment I had returned with my haul–you can see the emotional drain and crate-digger stress on my face–seconds before she would ask me, “Hey, have you heard of Sarayah?” Really, I had not. Nicole said, “She’s cute, and I really like her sound!” She was joyous, unstressed, and had made a true discovery, again without research!

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Now this is not the Sa’Rayah of The Voice–no effin’ way. This young lady is a New Orleans local (on Basin Street Records, home of master clarinetist Dr. Michael White and Kermit Ruffins, the closest thing we have to Louis Armstrong today, at least on a musical ambassador level, even if it’s just for his city) who unpretentiously, and on a low budget, effortlessly blends Caribbean and American dancefloor rhythms, sings and slinks sexily, and sells some hooks. We played her debut record, Feel the Vibe, right after Gebru’s this evening, and I could have just repeat-played it. Dig:

My wife, I think I’ll keep her. Along with these records.

Short-shrift division:

Bobby Rush: Folkfunk (with Alvin Youngblood Hart on lead guitar–to my ear, it’s the most consistent studio recording the ageless Rush has ever released).

Another iPod mix that helped us on our travels, combining ’50s and ’60s electric blues classics with two essential collections you may never have heard of–but should want to: Scratchin’–The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story and Super Rare Electric Blues of the ’60s Era